Cleaning coins

Author: Lauris Veips   Date Posted:30 July 2014 

Imagine taking a wrecked, dusty 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air and restoring it to mint condition, with all its shiny curves and comfy interior. The car would look much, much better than before, and, who knows, you might fetch a hefty buck for it.

The same should apply to coins -- just clean them and they’ll be worth more, right? The simple answer is Don’t clean your coins!


The exact opposite is true for coins. Why? The preferences of numismatists all across the globe say that coins can lose up to 90% of their value if tampered with seriously, or 10-30% if they are lightly cleaned. Cleaning the coins, if it’s not basic water dampening to remove dirt, removes the ‘antiqueness’ from the coins and damages them if it’s not done professionally.


Think about it like this: while the refurbished Chevy is like an old horse restored to its prime, coins are more like wine and whiskey. The older, the better. Time, according to numismatists, brings out the best in a coin--much like ageing in oak barrels makes whiskey taste so good.


It might not be obvious to the beginner, but coin connoisseurs actually prefer items that show the ravages of time. Of especial value are coins that have “oily” signs of wear--rainbow patterned blemishes and tarnish of interesting shapes. Cleaning the coins often creates an unnatural, shiny look that will scare away potential collectors. If you’ve inherited old coins, don’t clean them.


What coins might be worth cleaning


The market value of old coins can be thousand times more than that of the noble metal content. However, some coins fetch the exact value of their silver/gold content. These are the ones you can clean. Typically those are new coins or anniversary editions. Coins that are less sought after are also often of little value besides their value as a commodity.


If you have some dirty coins like that, you can probably get a bit more for them when selling them, because people tend to like shiny things. If that’s not the case, you shouldn’t clean your coins, ever.